Our Thoughts

From Serving Iowa Elders for Over 20 Years


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Quartet

Quartet

Remember those old Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland movies of the1930’s and 40’s? They solved their community problem by staging a “show.” They sang and danced into a happy, if improbable, ending. Quartet has a similar simple, feel-good, magical, happily-ever-after plot. Only with a geriatric twist.

The setting is stately retirement home in the English countryside needing an influx of funds for its survival. The residents are former operatic and classical musicians. The “harmonious” balance in relationships among the residents is disrupted by the arrival of a former opera diva, who has issues with her own aging and an ex-husband also residing there. Let’s get Diva to join our gala event so we can raise enough money to rescue our Victorian home. In the process, Diva learns her remaining life lessons.

My reaction to this film is unfairly sarcastic. If you are looking for a great story, you should pass this by. However, it is just the right film for a cold, rainy day and a cup of hot cocoa. The scenery is delightful and the pacing is measured and, for the most part, calm. Diva is played by Maggie Smith who can’t be on screen without riveting your attention. All the characters are very credible and enjoyable, particularly the flirtatious Irish tenor and Cissy, the occasionally disoriented. I loved the phrase: “Cissy’s gone walkabout.”

From a geriatric perspective, an important message is stated early in the film, when staff points out a fellow resident, a famous conductor, and Diva sniffs “I know who he was.” These characters have lost their identities as royalty in their field. As many work-focused retirees discover, work place identity fades. Retirement provides the opportunity to define oneself in more universal terms. The characters in Quartet conclude that they have no time left for regrets, quarrels, or competition. They learn to give of themselves and to enjoy each other in whatever time they have.Q

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Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy

In my father’s hometown, there is a grand old theater which features a notable film each month preceded by a catered dinner to match the theme of the entertainment.  This month was Southern fried chicken, slow-roasted beef tips, Creole mac & cheese, tomato cucumber salad and various desserts followed by 25 years of relationships in America’s Deep South.

When I saw this film years ago, I focused on the social inequities:  Miss Daisy Werthan’s dismissive rebuffs of her chauffeur Hoke, the various affronts to people in positions of servitude, anti-semitism expressed in a bombing of her synagogue, and law enforcement officers expressing prejudice against both people of color and Jews.

This time around my attention went to the issues of aging.  There have been many “Miss Daisy”s on the Elder Concerns’ client list.  Rather than see her as a difficult snob, I see her as a strong, common sensical, independent woman confronted with the losses that come with age.  In the first scene, she is forced to recognize that she cannot drive her car anymore.  That leads to a world of dependence which she resists vehemently.  When her son hires a chauffeur for her, she is offended by the need for a driver and offended that she is to be seen as someone so affluent as to have a chauffeur.  My heart went out to her. She can’t get around town alone anymore, she can’t drive her friends, and she has a “useless” employee eating her food and taking up space in her kitchen. She complains to her son that she has lost her privacy.  Much of this story seems to be Miss Daisy’s attempt to hang onto her lifelong values in the face of personal losses, all within a larger framework of societal upheaval.

Whereas on my first viewing, I understood that Miss Daisy and Hoke became compatriots by being both of oppressed social groups; now I see them becoming friends in their mutual paths of growing old and needing each other as individuals.  When the household cook dies suddenly, both Miss Daisy and Hoke agree the cook was “lucky” to have died unexpectedly while at her job. Soon Miss Daisy slides into advanced age and Hoke’s eyeglasses thicken. Miss Daisy eventually admits that Hoke is her best friend, something they have each known for years.  Neither loses their sense of humor, nor their sense of humanity.

In the profession of social work, we say that the relationship is everything. This movie is Relationship Building 101 for geriatric social work.  As well as darn good theater.D


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I’ll Be Me

I’ll Be Me is the autobiographical account of musician Glen Campbell’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and his remarkable final concert tour.  Glen Campbell, his wife, and his musical family has given us a wonderful and generous gift.  This film rings very true to our experiences with early-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  Mr. Campbell allows us to observe his failing memory and inability to concentrate with genuine candor.  The film reminds us of all the marvelous music the Rhinestone Cowboy sang when most of us were focused on the Stones and Beatles.  We are stunned by his ability to continue to perform in top form in major venues while so sufficiently impaired he had to be reminded to stay within the circle drawn for him on stage, lest he wander into the audience to have a chat with someone mid-song.  We can marvel at his professional musicianship despite impairment and how deftly his family and supporters helped him continue to live his life “to the last minute.”   In many forms of dementia, music continues to be a mode of communication when routine speech malfunctions.  Apparently music knowledge and skills are stored in many cerebral locations, allowing people to sing when they can’t speak and sway to the beat when otherwise immobile.  There is nothing sad about this movie, other than illness sucks and life is never long enough.